The company occupied three rooms on the second floor of a concrete strip mall. True to scrappy startup fashion, it had a small but trendy open floor-plan and beanbag chairs. The only way in was a pair of large glass doors sandwiched between two dentists' offices.
Walking in on my first day, I pulled the doors in the wrong direction, hearing a crunch as hinges tugged on drywall. Dust fell from the doorframe and someone inside cried, “It’s push!”
I was there to launch the company’s first marketing department. I hadn’t even entered the office yet, and already hope of making a good first impression had faded.
After meeting the team and running through some onboarding paperwork, my new boss (our CEO) left me to get settled in. I stood by my new desk, surveying a room where everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. I was the only member of the marketing department so far.
“Anything I can get started on?” I asked our CEO as he passed by with a cup of coffee.
He paused by my desk, looking thoughtful.
“Think you could get us on Amazon’s radar?” he asked, “I don’t know, like tweet something clever at them?”
Before you think my boss’s expectations were way too high, I should let you know that we eventually did find a connection with Amazon. Our CEO’s philosophy was to never deem a task impossible until you’ve asked.
No, we didn’t work with Amazon because of a clever tweet. That took several months and a lot of outside-the-box thinking. All the same, I spent much of my first day wracking my brains, trying to think of 140 characters clever enough to impress Bezos, or at least my boss.
That was trap #1. I wasted time looking for quick wins. My boss knew that the benefits of our product outweighed the competition. He was sure that if we could get our foot in the door via great content, sales leads would see how incredible we were. Rather than stepping back to create the right foundations, I bought into that idea, and started desperately trying to create content that would “go viral.”
Almost immediately, the pressure was on to create a viral marketing campaign or put out content that would get shared across the web. I wanted to prove I knew what I was doing. My first blog post was unique, fun, and informative. It was relevant to anyone who worked in our industry. I expected it to get thousands of views.
From then on, I felt trapped by the need to make every new piece of content go viral. I tried various techniques to boost views, from blog networks to commenting on our own content with alternate accounts. Though we published some fantastic content, only one piece ever really went viral. It was a YouTube video about a technical topic we didn’t expect to do well at all.
Targeted content that landed clients would have had far more ROI. If 10 people read your content and become clients, that’s much better than 10,000 people who read your content and don’t.
It wasn’t long after I started that my boss asked what I thought of Salesforce. Also, should we add Disqus to our blog? What about a chatbot?? What about a heat-mapping tool? Hotjar? What platform should we use for our new newsletter? Was there an Outlook plugin to help us track email open rates?
The number of platforms we used snowballed. Tools were soon tied together with a patchwork of header tags, code snippets, APIs, and plugins. Using them all felt like detective work.
Our CEO would ask questions like “What did this sales lead do on our site? Can we see if they opened an email I sent?” Each time, I’d have to dive into Google Analytics, Databox, and several other tools, only to come up with what was, more often than not, a rough guess.
It wasn’t intentional, but we ended up falling into what HubSpot calls “Frankenspotting.” Today, I regard Frankenspotting as one of my biggest mistakes as a new Head of Marketing. I didn’t choose to do it, but Frankenspotting just sort of happened over time.
As we struggled to gain new clients, we tacked on feature after feature to our services. We dropped our prices. We offered money-back guarantees that were unheard-of in the industry. How was it possible that we were selling top-tier services at bottom-tier prices and no one was buying?
After several months of work, I gathered the entire company for a roundtable. I asked about our clients. What were they like? What sorts of things did they complain about? What did they get most excited about? For the first time, most of my questions had little to do with the features and benefits of our services.
It became clear that our best clients and biggest fans didn’t care about pricing. In fact, they saw high prices as a sign of quality. Our current clients were there for our highly-specialized model and experienced team, not our price. To our ideal sales prospects, the quality of our services was far more important than the cost. Much of our branding didn’t match the needs of the personas we wanted to attract.
The lesson I learned, which I look forward to applying as PRP’s new growth-driven design specialist, was simple: Take the time early on to understand your target audience. Know what problems they’re trying to solve, and how they look for solutions. Then give them a customized path to becoming your clients. Always return to this information.
It's tempting to skip these steps. When you know you have to deliver results fast, shortcuts are appealing. You want to do anything that will get results. You get trapped by vague goals like "going viral."
Instead, take the time to look around, so you don't pull when the sign says “push.”